Winter weather has arrived in Croatia's north and with it comes the snow and ice, while the Adriatic coast and islands get heavy rains. Though the showers typically don't last long and only about half of the month receives rain. There's also the bura to contend with, a strong northeasterly wind that sweeps up the Adriatic coast and can reach hurricane-like force causing people to stay indoors, ferries to be canceled and bridges to close. It's no surprise, then, that December is one of the coldest months of the year.
Average daily temperatures inland hover around freezing, the mountainous area seeing the mercury drop below freezing. The coast, however, continues to be mild, temperatures ranging between 45-50 degrees Fahrenheit.
Crowds & Costs
There are few foreign tourists in Dubrovnik and the coast making travel to Croatia this time of year a more intimate experience. City centers from Dubrovnik to Zagreb will be busy with the Advent and Christmas season activity: Croats flocking to admire and participate in the festive decorations, celebrations, and Christmas markets. Hotels that remain open all year along the coast will be significantly reduced. Bear in mind that winter is considered Croatia's low-season and therefore transportation connections are limited.
Zagreb is steadily becoming a destination hot spot for both foreign and domestic tourists, the nearby ski slopes opening in December offering reasonable day and week passes.
Where to Go
There's something to experience in all parts of Croatia in December since the start of the festive season with Advent (the fourth Sunday before Christmas). Dubrovnik is a great place to start your holiday, with its quiet cobblestoned streets, near empty historic walls, mild weather, and seasonal decorations and festivities beginning to develop, including Christmas markets, concerts, and carolers. Most other cities and towns, like Split, Zadar, and Rijeka celebrate Christmas with great enthusiasm.
Croatia's most famous national park, Plitvice Lakes, is great to visit year-round. Though most travelers tend to visit in the warmer months, it takes on a whole other layer of beauty, when the snow starts to stick and the lakes begin to freeze over.
A visit to Istria for a laid-back experience of the Roman-influenced region offers much in the form a cozy off-season destination. Visit Rovinj or Pula for quiet exploration of their narrow, winding streets, and Roman ruins, or Motovun for charming views of snow-covered rolling hills and terracotta tiled rooftops of this hillside medieval town.
Zagreb has been voted the best in Europe for three consecutive years for its Advent program, making a visit to the capital a must. Jelačić Square hosts an impressive Christmas market, full of lights, live music, mulled wine, and food stalls, while the Ice Park on Tomislav Square converts into a skating rink surrounded by thousands of lights and food stands. Zrinjevac park too exudes holiday spirit, its stately trees adorned in twinkling lights that light the food and beverage stalls and handmade trinkets beneath.
What to Do
With the decline in temperatures, Zagreb pulls double duty as a festive city break and as a skiing holiday, December marking the beginning of the ski season. Many locals head to Medvednica mountain just a 20-minute drive outside of Zagreb for downhill skiing and snowboarding or to Platak which offers runs for downhill skiers, snowboarders, and cross-country skiers alike. If skiing isn't your thing, stay local and visit the open-air skating rink in Tomislav Square for some fun amid festive decorations. Then bundle up and hit the many venues offering local delicacies, handicrafts, and warm beverages, including holiday favorite, mulled wine.
Dubrovnik's Winter Festival remains traditional (compared to the more commercial Zagreb) and not only entices visitors with its charm but with its milder weather, you may be tempted to sit outdoors with a hot beverage in hand. Outside the Church of St. Blaise, listen to a classical music concert, wander advent stalls offering food, drinks and souvenirs, or wander Dubrovnik's impressive city walls—void of people this time of year.
Toward the end of December, the focus shifts away from Christmas and toward New Year's celebrations. Each town across the country ringing in the New Year with a solid live music act. Most performances are homegrown, though international performers are starting to frequent stages. Dubrovnik sets up a venue on the main street of Stradun for a crowd-pleasing and family-friendly mix of pop and folk or Further up the coast, Split's Riva is where to be, the Korzo in Rijeka, or the Roman Forum in Pula. No matter where you end up in Croatia on December 31, you will be taken care of.
Events in December
Pelješac Wine Cellars Open Days. During the first weekend in December, Ston, a short drive from Dubrovnik, promotes the year's vintage with workshops, music, and tastings. Even more fun, the wine cellars open their doors to the public to have a look as well as sample the goods.
Chocolate Festival. Celebrating everything chocolate this festival held in Opatija showcases the best chocolate for sampling from international brands to specialized manufacturers all producing original desserts. There is everything from lectures and workshops, to tastings, concerts, and wine pairings - all dedicated to chocolate.
Decorating Christmas Tree in the Sea. The small town of Rijeka in the peninsula of Istria has a tradition of inviting locals and visitors alike to decorate their central Christmas tree.
Codfish and Chocolate Week. A traditional holiday dish typically served on Christmas Eve, undergoes a makeover as Rijeka's local taverns and restaurants prepare regional dishes with preserved cod and offer chocolate and pralines for dessert throughout the week.
Christmas Eve, Christmas Day & Boxing Day. All three days are celebrated across Croatia. Christmas dinner is eaten on Christmas Eve followed by midnight mass and presents are opened Christmas Day. Both Christmas and Boxing Day are national bank holidays so note there will be plenty of business closures.
Traveling to Croatia in December? Check out this great itinerary idea.
Dalmatian Coast Self-Drive Tour - 12 Days. The sun always shines on the Dalmatian Coast—one of the most scenic coastal drives in Europe. In 12 days, you'll have the freedom to explore on your own, starting from historic Zagreb and ending at the walls of mighty Dubrovnik with a wide selection of national parks and beautiful coastal towns to stop at along the way.